Ahmet Turan Alkan, a columnist at the Zaman Newspaper, was detained on July 27, 2016. Just before the 15th of July, 2016 coup attempt on a court appointed a trustee to the newspaper. Later, the newspaper was shut down with a decree law under the state of emergency.
Alkan was jailed on July 30, 2016, after a decision by the Istanbul 4th Criminal Court of Peace, on the charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization.” He was sent to Silivri Prison.
On Dec. 11, 2016, the Istanbul 11th Criminal Court of Peace ordered the confiscation of Alkan’s assets upon request from the prosecutor.
Prosecutor for the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office; completed the indictment against the columnists, journalists and managers of the Zaman newspaper on April 10, 2018. Ahmet Turan Alkan was among the suspects. The 64-page indictment was issued on April 11, 2017, and was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on April 24, 2017.
In the indictment, Ahmet Turan Alkan faced three times aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to abolish the Constitution (TPC 309), the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TPC 311) and the government of the Republic of Turkey and preventing them from fulfilling their duties (TPC 312)” and 7.5 to 15 years of prison for “being a member of an armed organization (314/2).
The first hearing of the trial was held on Sept. 18-19, 2017 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court in a courthouse established in Silivri Prison.
On the sixth hearing, which was held on July 6, 2018, Ahmet Turan Alkan was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months of imprisonment for “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”
The court ruled for the release of Alkan under judicial control. Alkan was released from Silivri Prison after 2 years of imprisonment.
The decision of the court first instance was moved to the court of appeal. The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence.
Ahmet Turan Alkan was taken into custody on July 27, 2016, in connection with the operation against former contributors and administrators at the Zaman newspaper.
Following his testimony in the prosecutor’s office, Alkan was sent to the Istanbul 4th Criminal Court of Peace on Duty with a request for arrest. During the trial, he defended himself by these words:
“I have always opposed coup d’etats. I cannot describe the great trauma that I suffered on the night of the 15th of July coup attempt and the sadness I have experienced the following day because of the incidents. At this point, I feel a great blind spot. As writers, we should have realized these signs. However, you could imagine that everything happened really quickly as a surprise. I refuse the accusations against me.”
The preliminary statement of the verdict was as follows:
“… in his columns in the Zaman newspaper, he praised this structure; criticized the investigations of the security and judicial authorities against this structure; even though there had been a trial against Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of Zaman under the charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization,” he continued to work for the newspaper; especially after the period known as 17-25 December, he persisted in writing articles that praised this structure and carried out propaganda activities in line with the aims of the organization; […] Ekrem Dumanlı, who was subject to judicial control provisions while he was charged with the same crime, fled abroad; In this case, it is understood that the provisions of judicial control will be insufficient …”
On Dec. 1, 2016, the Istanbul 11th Criminal Court of Peace ruled to confiscate the assets of 54 people, including Alkan, on the grounds “they had acquired assets with the advantage of being members of a terrorist organization or were financing the terrorist organization” on a request by the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Prosecutor for the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office completed the indictment against the contributors and managers of the Zaman newspaper, including Ahmet Turan Alkan, on April 10, 2018. The 64-page indictment was issued to the court on April 11, 2017, and was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on April 24, 2017.
In the indictment, the prosecutor recommended Ahmet Turan Alkan receive three times aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to abolish the Constitution (TPC 309), the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TPC 311) and the government of the Republic of Turkey and preventing them from fulfilling their duties (TPC 312)” and 7.5 to 15 years of prison for “being a member of an armed organization (314/2).
Prosecutor for the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office completed the indictment against the contributors and managers of the Zaman newspaper, including Ahmet Turan Alkan, on April 10, 2018.
Like the other indictments relating to “FETÖ trials”, the indictment’s first 20 pages were related to the foundation of “FETÖ,” its mission, method, strategy, hierarchical structure, intelligence network, financial structure and sources of revenue and armed forces. The indictment also addressed the media structure of the organization and its effect on investigations.
Instead of “explaining the crimes attributed to the suspects,” the indictment attempted to prove the alleged connection between FETÖ and the media institutions under which the suspects worked in various positions.
Also, despite the fact that people such as the Zaman newspaper’s former Editor-in-Chiefs Ekrem Dumanlı and Abdülhamit Bilici, Samanyolu TV’s CEO Hidayet Karaca, the Taraf newspaper’s columnists Emre Uslu and Mehmet Baransu and the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s former editor-in-chief Can Dündar are suspects of other trials, their names were mentioned in the Zaman indictment.
In the indictment, the charges against the suspects were mentioned only after the first 20 pages. Alkan was accused of establishing the media force behind FETÖ, and was alleged to have played a role in the eradication of the constitutional order, the Assembly and the government, in line with the aims of the organization.
In the indictment, Alkan’s name is mentioned only in the personal identifying information, the sections in which the crimes are listed and in the requested penalty section.
Ahmet Turan Alkan was charged for articles published in the Zaman newspaper following the 17-25 December 2013’s bribery and corruption investigation involving the names of ministers in the AKP government’s cabinet and their children.
The indictment referred to seven of Alkan’s articles published in 2013 and 2014. These include “Doğrular, eğriler” (Dec. 21, 2013), “Komisyon, hayır-hasenat” (Dec. 28, 2013), “Vites kutusuna cıvata atmak” (Feb. 2, 2014), “Sorular havadaki uçak gibidir” (Feb. 5, 2014), “Hasar tespiti” (Feb. 8, 2014), “Tiranlık mı, demokrasi mi; karar bizim” (March 10, 2014), “Gemiyi delmeden ve deldirmeden” (March 29, 2014). Alkan was accused of “creating a perspective in line with the aims of FETÖ/PDY organization” through these articles.
The prosecutor noted the articles referenced in the indictment were not “taken out of context” and within the historical perspective, these articles cannot be considered as “metaphorical or figures of speech.” He stated “even in writings that do not show the presence of elements of the crime, the articles exceeded the limits of freedom of press and freedom of expression, and the expressions used in the form of violations of the rights of state authorities and institutions or articles were prepared as a preliminary preparations.”
The prosecutor claimed Ahmet Turan Alkan was “serving the aims of the organization … used expressions that may threaten national security; disrupt public peace, social peace and public order [and] doesn’t hesitate to call for military coup” with these articles and through these actions he allegedly “established the media force of armed organization FETÖ/PDY,” and “fulfill his role in the eradication of the constitutional order, the Assembly and the government as in line with the aims of armed organization FETÖ/PDY.”
In the indictment, the prosecutor demanded three times aggravated life imprisonment for Ahmet Turan Alkan for “attempting to abolish the Constitution, the Turkish Grand National Assembly and the government of the Republic of Turkey and preventing them to fulfill their duties” and 7.5 to 15 years of prison for “committing an offence on behalf of an organization without being a member of that organization.“
The first hearing of trial against Ahmet Turan Alkan was held on Sept. 18-19, 2017, by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court in the courthouse of Silivri Prison.
When Alkan first appeared before the judge, he had been in prison for more than a year. In his first defense, Alkan said:
“According to this indictment, the prosecutor could have charged me as the instigator and propagandist for the flood of Noah. How could the criticism of corruption be preparing the grounds for the coup? I am not a member of the [Gulenist] movement and never have been. I am not the manager of the Zaman newspaper but only a columnist. During the time I wrote in the Zaman newspaper, I did not witness the existence or activity of the so-called FETÖ terrorist organization.”
“If I were a prominent member of this organization, I would have fled away. I am neither a terrorist nor a coup plotter. After the coup, my house was raided and searched inch by inch. I was not mistreated when I was detained. They asked me if I wanted to ‘benefit from effective remorse.’ If I knew something, I would have confessed, and wouldn’t have hesitated. Am I crazy? I am 63 years old, why should I keep anyone’s secret?”
The second hearing of the case was held on Dec. 8, 2017 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. Alkan made the following defense:
“Five-hundred days of extortion of a man’s life can never be taken lightly. This trial is a work of vengeance, a political rage. Is it so easy to steal 500 days from the life of an ordinary person by such light and unserious accusations?”
“Whoever stands at the bar said something like, ‘I wasn’t going to write for the [Zaman] newspaper, I became a columnist accidentally.’ I wrote [at Zaman] for 20 years. I am a columnist for the Zaman newspaper. I wrote till the trustee was appointed. I had no affiliation with either Erdoğan or Gülen. This is my stance, and it is the most meaningful legacy for my children and grandchildren because I do not know whether I will survive imprisonment or not.”
“We have been under intense isolation for 500 days. We have been treated as traitors. This is a formal attitude. I am resentful of the state, which expects me to lose my mind. We know very well they are trying to use us [as examples] to create a chilling effect on dissident journalists.”
“We are the best examples. As the Zaman newspaper’s writers, we are derelict. We have been stigmatized as ‘FETÖists’ so no one can defend us.”
“It is said that the ECHR will fine Turkey for some compensation. What can I do with this compensation?”
“In this trial, I believe there is not much distance between the judge and the one who is judged. We are under pressure. I believe the judicial bureaucracy is under a different pressure as well. It is as if the big brother’s menacing gaze strolls over this hearing room.”
The third hearing was held on April 5, 2018. At the hearing, the prosecutor announced his opinion on the accusations and requested aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to abolish the Constitution” and up to 15 years for “being a member of a terrorist organization.” When he learned the sentence the prosecutor demanded, Alkan had been in prison for more than 500 days. Alkan’s request for release was also rejected during this hearing.
The fourth hearing of the trial was held on May 10-11, 2018. Prior to the hearing, Alkan issued a public letter. In the letter, which he published via his son, Alkan wrote:
“I am journalist-writer Ahmet Turan Alkan, a columnist for the Zaman newspaper. I entered my 65th age in prison. I have been imprisoned for 22 months and am in intense isolation. The Prosecutor’s Office demands aggravated life imprisonment and a 15-year prison sentence due to my 15 articles. There is no other concrete evidence against me. I am a criminal of thought. The crime of opinion has been buried in history all over the world. Like tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, it has disappeared; unfortunately, in my country it rose again. The penalty against the statement of opinion is aggravated life imprisonment, namely a death sentence.”
“I certainly don’t regret what I wrote. I didn’t apologize. I won’t. I know the source that will affect the court, but since the first hearing, I also regarded the call to that authority as self-abasement, and will do so. I would rather be imprisoned with his cruelty than to get out with his favor.”
“They can give me an aggravated life sentence but cannot legally convict me or, most importantly, embarrass me. They can keep me in jail but cannot charge me with a credible crime. They can kill me in this dungeon but can never bring disgrace upon me.”
“I stand by my pen. I did not applaud the corruption, I did not ingest the theft by covering it in chocolate, I did not butter up the tyrants, and never looked the other way.”
“I will not lick the knife that cuts my throat. I will not ask for forgiveness from the ogre.”
Alkan demanded release in the fourth hearing as well but was again rejected.
The fifth hearing of the case was held on June 7-8, 2018. Alkan made his final defense against the prosecutor’s opinion regarding the accusations. He said:
“During the 23 months we spent in prison, the institutions of our state found no evidence against us apart from our articles. Two years of my life have been confiscated. Do not expect me to apologize. I am a writer for the Zaman, I am a dissident. I was not a dissident before, but now, I have become one. I don’t lick the knife that cuts my throat. I have no Stockholm syndrome. My job is writing. I’m behind my writings because they’re not written with any instructions from anyone. I don’t have a sheikh and I don’t have a disciple.”
Following the completion of all the defendants’ final defenses against the prosecutor’s opinion regarding the accusations, the court rejected all requests for release.
In the 6th hearing, which was held on July 6, 2018, the court reached a verdict. When his last words were requested by the panel of judges, Ahmet Turan Alkan said:
“The Constitutional Court and the ECHR emphasized that our detention is arbitrary. The biggest treasure of this country is the independence and quality of the judiciary. The confidence of the writers who gave me their support from the first day of my detention gave me strength. I owe them thanks. I would like to thank my parents, lawyers and relatives who came to see me from a distance.”
Altan was found guilty for being a member of an armed terrorist organization and, with the application of a good conduct abatement, he was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months imprisonment.
In the same verdict, Ahmet Turan Alkan, was released due to his age and health status, and the time he spent in prison.
In the release verdict, the court’s reference of the Constitutional Court’s “violation of the right” decision on Şahin Alpay’s case, who was also a defendant in the same trial, drew attention.
Alkan was released but was banned from going abroad under a judicial control measure.
Alkan was freed that day after a 1 year and 11 months imprisonment.
The court’s sentence was taken to the court of appeal.
After his release, Ahmet Turan Alkan wrote on Twitter:
“Half of my heart remained in Silivri. Till all of my journalist friends rejoin their freedom and loved ones, my sourness will not pass, and will remain. The verdict of our release shows the state of law, justice, and that good and beautiful things can still remain in Turkey. Now, I am more hopeful for my country.”
The İstanbul Jurisdiction Court’s 2nd Penal Chamber approved the 8 years 9 months imprisonment sentence about Alkan on June 25, 2019. Accordingly, The Court of Appeal did not detect any illegitimacy for the punishment of him on charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
Court of Cassation Process
The verdict was referred to the Court of Cassation.
Court of Cassation Chief of Public Prosecutor’s Office presented its letter of notification to the Court of Cassation 16th Criminal Chambers in the case where Alkan was being tried as well.
Chief of Public Prosecutors Office’s letter of notification at December 23rd, 2019 requested the sentences of Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Mustafa Ünal and night-time news editor İbrahim Karayeğen for “terrorist organisation membership” to be upheld. Chief Public Prosecutors Office also requested that the decision against Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç for “terrorist organisation membership” to be reversed and Alpay and Bulaç to be tried for “knowingly and willingly aiding FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organisation without partaking in the hierarchical structure of the organisation”.
The letter requested the acquittal decision for columnists Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural, İhsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz to be upheld as well whereas it requested the release decision for editor Mehmet Özdemir to be reversed.
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